1st june 2004

It's John Masefield's birthday; he went from working in a carpet factory in New York City to Poet Laureate, a smart career move. When I see his name I think of this quote, from his novel Jim Davis (our young hero has been shanghaied by smugglers and his leader and mentor has been wounded in some skirmish):

I put a tub under his head as a pillow, then I cut his shirt open and saw that he had been shot in the chest. I ran forward with a pannikin, drew some water, and gave him a drink. He drank greedily, biting the tin, but did not recognise me; all that he could say was "Rip-raps, Rip-raps," over and over again. The Rip-raps was the name of a race or tideway on the Campeachy coast; he had often told me about it, and I had remembered the name because it was such a queer one. I bathed his wound with the water.

The OED would have us believe that rip-raps are:

An imitation of the sound caused by a rapid succession of blows; hence, a sharp blow. Obs.
A kind of detonating firework.
A rocky submarine hillock.
Loose stone thrown down in water or on a soft bottom to form a foundation for a breakwater or other work.

Or most famously, stones embedded in the ground to stabilize a trail:
see Gary Snyder.

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4th june 2004
the pleasure of looking

She turned on her side and put her arm over her head. Between the arm of her sweater, her hat, and the white reeds, she could see a triangle of sky, sea and sand - quite a small triangle. There was a blade of grass in the sand beside her, and between its sawtoothed leaves it held a piece of seabird down. She carefully observed the construction of this piece of down - the taut white rib in the middle, surrounded by the down itself, which was pale brown and lighter than the air, and then darker and shiny towards the tip, which ended in a tiny but spirited curve. The down moved in a draft of air too slight for her to feel. She noted that the blade of grass and the down were at precisely the right distance for her eyes.
She wondered if the down had caught on the grass now, in the spring, maybe during the night, or if it had been there all winter.

- Tove Jansson, The Summer Book

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8th june 2004

In books also animalcules are found, some resembling the grubs found in garments, and some resembling tailless scorpions, but very small.
- Aristotle

This is the pseudoscorpion's first foray into the literature. It's then very quiet until the 1780s, when George Adams* wrote of:

A lobster insect, spied by some labouring men who were drinking their porter, and borne away by an ingenious gentleman, who brought it to my lodging.

(The above is one of my mantras: I repeat it to myself on buses, on picnics). Pseudoscorpions then fall once more from common perception (hey! he reckons Aristotle's like, common!) and are now consigned to the specialist sector. I used to keep some, gleaned from the dunes in Norfolk; they loved Drosophila and were charming pets, but breeding was disastrous as baby scorpions less than a millimetre long are too small to keep track of, let alone feed.
I hadn't seen one for years until last summer, when a large fly landed on the trunk of the apple tree I was standing next to, and dangling from a rear leg was one of your men, clinging on with both claws and too busy to wave. By the time I'd got hold of a jar, it was gone.

* optician to George III, no less

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9th june 2004

How will it be, they ask, when the Minister and the President of the Company arrive to switch on the current? Will the electricity flow like water, first lighting dull lamps and spinning slow fans next to the generator, then running through those thin and shiny filaments to the police station, the school, along the Rest House verandah - mango by mango - until it reaches the hospital to drip and spurt, like a farmer's furthest tap, amongst the sick-beds?
Not like water, explain the electricians. 'But strong and all at once.'

from Jim Crace, Continent

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22nd june 2004
wondering 0 rocks

lady with parasol: one of many

    Your correspondent skimmed on a
    flivver into Dub and was in the thick
    of things by 9 am. Weather was good
    value, seaborne clouds, awnings,
    pineapple light and vanilla airs all     doing their stuff. First to the tower
    where a Boylan sat among the
    throng on the gunrest; then a paddle
    on Sandymount beach; then a
    scamper into town for lunch. The     crowd in Davy Byrne's was fierce: the     smell of gorgonzola was so thick you     could've run mice across it. I'm not     sure how Bloom survived without
    a drink until his cider in the Ormond:
    half an hour after the cheese, the     mustard and the wine I was parched     and needed a pint. And the Ormond,     after a walk on the quays, was a bit of a
    shock: The Ormond Quay Hotel and
    Conference Centre, it said. And the bar?
The Sirens Lounge. No bronze by gold. No go. Even the dedicated dressers-up had their drinks outside in the street. Then a foxed attempt to go to Howth, trains had died; a guard announced the fact to a few hundred sweating commuters and added Don't worry - yez'll all get home - somehow.
A grand day out - and the city was so easily recognized, so familiar after all the years even under its tinted glass and euros.
Hush! Caution! Echoland!

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23rd june 2004
les choses sont contre nous

A convenient point of departure is provided by the famous Clark-Trimble experiments of 1935. Clark-Trimble was not primarily a physicist, and his great discovery of the Graduated Hostility of Things was made almost accidentally. During some research into the relation between periods of the day and human bad temper, Clark-Trimble, a leading Cambridge psychologist, came to the conclusion that low human dynamics in the early morning could not sufficiently explain the apparent hostility of Things at the breakfast table - the way honey gets between the fingers, the unfoldability of newspapers, etc. In the experiments which finally confirmed him in this view, and which he demonstrated before the Royal Society in London, Clark-Trimble arranged four hundred pieces of carpet in ascending degrees of quality, from coarse matting to priceless Chinese silk. Pieces of toast and marmalade, graded, weighed, and measured, were then dropped on each piece of carpet, and the marmalade-downwards incidence was statistically analysed. The toast fell right-side-up every time on the cheap carpet, except when the cheap carpet was screened from the rest (in which case the toast didn't know that Clark-Trimble had other and better carpets), and it fell marmalade-downwards every time on the Chinese silk. Most remarkable of all, the marmalade- downwards incidence for the intermediate grades was found to vary exactly with the quality of carpet.

- Paul Jennings, Report on Resistentialism

Our captains have to coax the huge ironclads. With all the machinery, and the science, and the elaboration, and the gauges, and the mathematically correct everything, the iron monsters would never come safe to an anchorage without the most exquisite coaxing. You must coax everything if you want to succeed; ironclads, fortune, Frances.
Bevis coaxed his boat, and suited her in all her little ways; now he yielded to her; now he waited for her; now he gave her her head and let her feel freedom; now, he hinted, was the best moment; suddenly his hand grew firm, and round she came.

- Richard Jefferies, Bevis

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28th june 2004

Oo, fishies.

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29th june 2004
ladies please form an orderly queue


It's Rousseau's birthday, and here he is in one of the great feel-good portraits. This is the best-known one, much copied and reproduced, by Maurice-Quentin de la Tour, painted in 1753 when Rousseau was 41 (my age now), a few years before he produced The Social Contract.
Diderot hated this picture, and complained (in such a pre-modern way):

M. de la Tour, usually so sublime and true to life, has not produced the masterpiece of which he is capable . . . I expected to see slovenly dress, dishevelled wig, an aspect to alarm literary and high society; but I see only the author of The Village Soothsayer*, well-dressed, combed and powdered and ridiculously seated on a straw-bottomed chair.

Well Denis, I suspect you were just cranky that you never looked half so good, or had a chin quite so blue.

*Rousseau's 1752 opera, now not performed so much.

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